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Bill introduced to axe 'lunch shaming' in schools

Students who can't afford school lunches won't be shamed for their situation, should a proposed bill be passed.

Senate Bill 162 prohibits school lunch shaming, and it requires all public and private schools that participate in the national school lunch program to provide a meal to any student who requests one.

SB 162 also says a school cannot require a student to throw away a meal after it has been served because the student can't pay for it or owes money for previous meals. Under the bill, introduced by an assortment of legislators including Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, and Billie Sutton, D-Burke, students unable to pay for lunch can't be publicly identified by being forced to wear a wristband or hand stamp or by being required to do work to pay for meals.

Currently, South Dakota has no statewide policies about how schools handle situations in which students can't pay for lunch.

In the Mitchell School District, staff communicate with parents via email and phone call when a student's balance reaches $10 or less, according to Superintendent Joe Graves. Students are not denied lunch or "shamed" if their balance is negative, he said.

In the past, the district did, however, stamp a child's hand who had a low or negative balance, but that wasn't to shame the child, Graves said.

"That was simply a way to communicate to parents they were low on funds. We never used that as a way to separate the kids," Graves said. "Sometimes my own kids came home with the stamp. I don't know of any schools that do the things outlined in this bill, so I certainly don't have a problem with it."

SB 162 was introduced last week and will next be heard in the Senate Education Committee.

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